A Special TRAC Report:
A Word About the Data
This TRAC report about the more than 160,000 men and women working for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as of March 2003 is based on information drawn from a variety of sources. These sources include the Department itself and its Office of Inspector General, Congress, other federal agencies -- including the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Census, and the CIA, and a variety of official geographic authorities.
For the most part, however, the sources of TRAC’s report involve federal personnel records developed by sub-agencies that have become a part of the department rather than internal administrative information from the DHS itself.
On the basis of our initial contacts with the DHS, the department -- for whatever reason -- does not appear to be operating in the open manner required by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Although the law creating the DHS did establish certain very carefully defined areas where the department was exempted from the FOIA, the broad reach of this important open-government statute was not modified. It should be recalled that the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department and many other highly sensitive agencies function within the mandates of the FOIA.
TRAC’s direct experiences with the DHS in connection with the FOIA law thus far have not been encouraging. Most of our FOIA requests to the department, for example, have yet to be acted upon although -- given the short time that has elapsed since our initial requests -- this may not be entirely surprising. More disturbing is the fact that many of public records that the Freedom of Information Act requires be posted on the agency’s web site are not yet available.
But there have been a number of additional specific incidents that heighten our concern. In an attempt to telephone the department’s public affairs office in June, for example, TRAC was twice informed that the direct-dial number of this office was not a matter of public record. On a second occasion, after a FOIA officer in one of DHS sub-agencies promised to fax TRAC a list identifying documents that the FOIA specifically mandates be made public, the promise was withdrawn. Then another DHS sub-agency informed TRAC it would not act on our FOIA request -- an outcome flowing from its failure to classify Syracuse University as qualifying as an “educational ...institution whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research.” On yet another occasion, a TRAC request for more timely information to update material posted some months before on a sub-agency’s public web site was summarily refused.
Given the natural growing pains of any new agency -- especially one as large as the DHS – perhaps these and other such department slips are not surprising. Whatever the explanation, however, the lapses are unfortunate because they have forced TRAC to initiate a substantial number of separate FOIA requests that will unnecessarily result in the waste of valuable agency staff hours. More broadly, of course, is the still open question of whether the DHS intends to fully abide by the mandates of the FOIA.
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